• 500k sacks found in Cagayan de Oro
• 6 Customs execs in Subic relieved
Nearly 500,000 sacks of raw sugar were found in surprise visits to several warehouses in Cagayan de Oro City Tuesday as the Palace announced that six Customs officials in the Port of Subic were relieved amid an investigation into sugar smuggling.
Acting on orders from the Office of the President (OP), Customs agents examined three warehouses of Crystal Sugar Milling located in North Poblacion in Cagayan de Oro City and found 466,142 sacks of raw sugar.
In a statement Wednesday, the bureau said the operation was initiated based on intelligence reports that the owners were allegedly hoarding sugar.
Initial investigation by the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) indicated that of the total inventoried sugar, some 264,000 sacks were said to have been already sold to traders but the stocks have not yet been withdrawn from the warehouse.
According to the warehouse manager identified as Javier Sagarbarria, the Crystal Sugar Milling produces 2 million bags of sugar a year.
He added that “the one holding or safekeeping the documents was not around” when authorities demanded copies of sugar transaction documents to verify if the numbers would confirm that the discovered sugar was authorized stock.
Customs agents from Northern Mindanao were assisted by a representative from the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) as well as security units provided by the local units of the military and police based in the municipality of Maramag in Bukidnon province.
Earlier, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles announced that the BOC and other agencies are continuously inspecting sugar warehouses, in accordance with the intensified campaign of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. against the illegal importation of agricultural products.
“The government crackdown against hoarders and profiteers is part of the campaign of the Marcos government to bring down the price of sugar,” she said.
In less than a week, simultaneous operations were conducted by the BOC, the SRA, and the Department of Agriculture (DA) to inspect sugar warehouses in Deparo, Caloocan City; Balut in Tondo and San Nicolas in Manila; Rosales, Pangasinan; San Fernando, Pampanga; Ibaan, Batangas; and Davao.
A few days after the Chief Executive met with owners of Robinsons Supermarket, SM Supermarket, and Puregold, prices of sugar in their Metro Manila stores dropped to P70 per kilo from a high of P110 per kilo a few weeks back.
Over the weekend, four warehouses in Guiguinto, Bulacan jointly inspected by the BOC, SRA and the DA yielded at least 60,000 bags of suspected hoarded sugar.
The huge volume of sugar discovered in various inspected warehouses in Luzon and lately in Mindanao has led Palace officials to conclude that the sugar shortage was artificial, caused mainly by the hoarding of the commodity by traders who want to profit from the sudden spike in prices.
Meanwhile, Malacanang said acting BOC Commissioner Yogi Filemon Ruiz relieved six Port of Subic officials and transferred them to the Office of the Commissioner.
Earlier, Cruz-Angeles said heads would roll after its probe of an illegal sugar import order is completed.
The relieved BOC officials were Subic district collector Maritess Theodossis Martin, deputy collector for assessment Maita Sering Acevedo, deputy collector for operations Giovanni Ferdinand Aguillon Leynes, chief of assessment division Belinda Fernando Lim, Enforcement Security Service commander Vincent Mark Solamin Malasmas, and Intelligence and Investigation Service supervisor Justice Roman Silvoza Geli.
The six BOC officials were being investigated after Malacanang discovered that importers used recycled permits in an attempt to smuggle 140,000 bags or 7,021 metric tons of imported sugar from Thailand at the Port of Subic.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are investigating the sugar import mess after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. rejected Sugar Order No. 4, which called for the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar.
Three SRA board members have resigned as a result of the “unauthorized” signing of the resolution.
Acting SRA Administrator David Alba said the prices of sugar are expected to stabilize in about a month as the milling season begins.
Interviewed on Dobol B TV, Alba said that it would take a month for the newly milled sugar to reach Manila and stabilize prices.
The SRA chief said that prices of refined sugar may “go over P80 per kilo.”
Data from the Department of Agriculture showed that the prevailing price of refined sugar is at P100 per kilo while washed sugar and brown sugar are sold at P75 per kilo and P70 per kilo, respectively.
Some supermarkets have started selling refined white sugar for P70 per kilo, but purchases are limited to one kilo per customer, under an agreement reached with the Palace.
Also on Wednesday, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri dismissed suggestions that Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez was part of a plot to illegally import sugar.
“I absolutely do not believe that he is part of this plan of coming out with an illegal order to import sugar,” Zubiri said, noting that it was Rodriguez who told President Marcos about the plan to import sugar.
It was also Rodriguez who told the President about Sugar Order No. 4, which was signed and released by then Agriculture undersecretary Leo Sebastian, without Marcos’ knowledge.
“If he was part of this plan, why would he bring it to the attention of the President?” Zubiri said.
Testifying during the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee first hearing on the sugar importation fiasco, both Sebastian and resigned SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica said they acted based on a memo issued to them by Rodriguez.
Serafica told the committee that the Executive Secretary directed him to draft an order to import sugar.
Serafica also told the committee the draft of the sugar order was kept secret until the time it reached the President.